BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany should not approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia until investigations into the circumstances of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death have been completed, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Saturday.
Maas’s statement, which appeared to reverse a decision to sell artillery systems to Riyadh, came after he and Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected as unsatisfactory Saudi Arabia’s explanation for the death of the dissident journalist in its Istanbul consulate.
In an interview for public television’s Tagesthemen program, Maas said he believed no weapons should be sold to the kingdom until the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death had been cleared up.
“As long as investigations are underway, as long as we don’t know what happened there, there is no reason to take positive decisions on arms exports to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The decision last month to authorize the sale, part of an effort to normalize relations with the kingdom, stirred controversy because it ran against an earlier pledge not to sell arms to countries involved in the Yemen war.
In the strongest Western reaction to Riyadh’s admission that Khashoggi had died in the consulate, Merkel and Maas earlier condemned the killing, demanding that Riyadh make clear what had happened.
“We condemn this act in the strongest terms,” read a joint statement, in which they demanded “transparency” from Riyadh. “The information available about events in the Istanbul consulate is inadequate.”
Expressing deep sympathy to Khashoggi’s friends and relatives, Merkel and Maas said those responsible for his death must be held accountable.
Asked in the interview whether Siemens (SIEGn.DE) boss Joe Kaeser should follow many other international executives in cancelling plans to attend a forthcoming investment conference in Saudi Arabia, Maas said cancellations sent the right signal.
“I certainly wouldn’t participate in an event in Riyadh at the moment,” he said. “And I have great understanding for those who have canceled.”
In his interview, Maas added that a United Nations-backed probe of the killing might be a means of improving the “objectivity and credibility” of any findings.
Merkel’s and Maas’s remarks followed calls from across the political spectrum on Saturday for Germany to toughen its stance toward Riyadh following the drama around Khashoggi which comes at an awkward time for Berlin, which has been attempting to normalize its stormy relations with the kingdom.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Richard Balmforth